Torri Comacho was a stay-at-home mom for years after giving up her job as a dental assistant. But when the kids were grown and out, the 53-year-old went in search of a new career.
She found Aparicio-Levy Technical Center and the road to a new profession, veterinary technician.
"Everyone seems to have good job success and I'm happy with my choice," Comacho said between taking notes on which dog food the class pup found most appealing.
Down the hall at the school that sits on the northwestern edge of Brandon, Shayla Sims, 18, worked on getting the perfect camera angle for a video the students were making to showcase the New Media and Digital Design program. She is learning Web design and how to create music videos and magazine ads as part of her course work.
"I hope to go into the advertising world with this and create and design logos for companies," Sims said. She wants her own business one day.
Aparicio-Levy opened in 2006 and is one of five technical and vocational schools operated by Hillsborough County Public Schools. It offers programs to adults 18 years and older who hold a high school diploma or GED.
"What we see these days is the need for more industry certifications, and high skill training is valued in the work world," said Principal Ann Marie Courtney. In some cases, students come to Aparicio-Levy to get technical training, then go on to college, she said.
There are programs in computer technology, biomedical technician, veterinary technician, PC repair and a program coming this spring in landscape management, among others.
Certifications typically take a year or less.
"One thing that sets us apart is that we are responsive to the community," Courtney said. "If there's a lot of interest in a particular area, we find a way to offer it."
The school can instruct people in office-based computer software programs, for which they can then take certification tests. It can also help with résumé-writing and computer skills.
Completing course work for a particular program, such as veterinary technician, typically costs $1,200 or less, depending on books and fees, Courtney said. The tuition, which must be paid in advance, tends to be a bit lower than similar programs at Hillsborough Community College, she said.
The new landscape management program will begin in March, and the 900-hour course can be completed in a year. It will include functions of the landscape business, from basic design to plant and pest identification, methods of pest control and basic entrepreneur skills for the new businessperson.
"We try to include local employers on our advisory board so that we know we are serving the business community," Courtney said.
"And we are always in need of guest speakers, places for field trips and people willing to let students shadow them in the workplace.
"We want to teach what employers need in an employee," she said.
To learn more about the programs, visit www.goaltc.com. The school is off Falkenburg Road north of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard at 10119 E. Ellicott St.